September 11, 2011 -- Major League Baseball Productions And A&E Networks Home Entertainment have just released a new collection of 10 classic baseball game DVDs based on the original television broadcasts of those games. These are being advertised as “available for the first time on DVD.” In this review, I'll be talking about one of the three DVDs I received in the mail yesterday, all of which involve my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. Two of these DVDs also feature the powerful New York Yankees, while the other features Cincinnati's Big Red Machine that dominated all of baseball in the early to mid-1970s. This first review is of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Red Sox.
The 10 games in this collection, available in stores and at MLB.com and other online venues, are: Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Game 6, 1975 World Series, the May 17, 1979 slugfest at Wrigley Field (the only regular season game in the collection, featuring one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history) Game 5, 1985 National League Championship Series, Game 6, 1986 World Series, Game 7, 1991 World Series, Game 7, 1992 National League Championship Series, Game 6, 1993 World Series, Game 7, 2003 American League Championship Series, Game 4, 2004 American League Championship Series. Individual games in this collection are available for purchase. Note that the technical characteristics of these DVDs varies quite a bit from one to the next, as discussed in the technical section of the review below.
I chose to watch game seven of the 2003 championship series first in order to get it out of the way. It is a painful one for us Red Sox fans, as it is a cherished one for Yankee fans. It is a game of high drama featuring a match up of two Hall of Fame quality pitchers, the great Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox versus the record-setting power pitcher Roger Clemens of the Yankees (we'll talk about steroids later). In this one, it looked like the underdog Red Sox had the game well in hand until a three run Red Sox lead was erased by a dramatic Yankee comeback in the eighth inning. But the game wasn't decided until the 11th inning.
As often happens in games like this, unexpected heroes arise. First it was Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, demoted to seventh in the batting order because of ineffectiveness earlier in the series, who blasted two solo homers to keep the Yankees in the game. After starter Clemens gave up four runs and was chased early, starter Mike Mussina stepped in to pitch relief for the first time in his storied career, and performed brilliantly to keep the Yankees in the game. But the biggest surprise came at the end of the game when light-hitting journeyman Aaron Boone, inserted into the game earlier as a pinch-runner, stepped to the plate in the 11th and hit a game-winning walk off homer.
Yankee stadium went wild. Aaron's brother Bret, a broadcaster for the Fox Network, had tears in his eyes, as did the elderly Yankee coach Don Zimmer (a former Red Sox manager) who had profusely apologized days earlier for being part of an ugly fight that had marred an earlier game in the series. The joy of the Yankees and their fans was matched by the depression of the Red Sox fans who had suffered too many such disappointments in their past. According to a Wikipedia article citing Bill Simmons' book “Now I Can Die in Peace,” Boston manager Grady Little had defied the wishes of team management and ownership by leaving starter Martinez in the game too long in the crucial eighth inning. Little was fired as a result and Terry Francona was hired as the new Boston skipper, paving the way for a reversal of fortunes for both the Red Sox and the Yankees the following year. This leads us to the next disk in the collection.
Watching this game again I was struck by how the history of the steroid era has colored this game. Clemens, Giambi, Red Sox star Manny Ramirez and other players on both sides in the game would later get caught up in steroid allegations. It makes you wonder how steroids affected the game. Since I am writing this review on September 11, I can't help but think of how this game, played not long after the second anniversary of those attacks, maybe provided Yankee fans with some small measure of solace. As a Red Sox fan I had never really liked Yankee fans, but I couldn't help but feel for them in the wake of those terrible losses New York suffered. I could never really feel fully apart from New York after that tragic attack. This game rates a B, although I must admit I would probably rate it higher if I was a Yankees fan.
The disclaimer at the beginning of this DVD is not to be taken lightly. It reads, “The game footage that follows includes occasional audio and video imperfections inherent in the master tapes ...” This disclaimer does not appear on all the DVDs in the “Baseball's Greatest Games” collection. I found the technical aspects of the video, such as resolution, aspect ratio, sound quality, etc. varies considerably from disk to disk in the collection. These difference will be discussed in each review of individual disks in the collection. I like the scene selection menu on the disk, instead of the usual thumbnails and descriptions, it is basically a baseball mouse-like pointer with a standard line score of the game as a menu. You put the pointer on the half-inning you want to see and click, you are there. Very slick.
I tested this particular disk on three different setups on three different players and two different screen setups, as well as on a computer (I do a lot of these kinds of reviews, and I have a lot of video and audio equipment). It actually looks best on a standard DVD player connected to a TV with component cables and set on progressive scan (480p) although it would probably look about the same on an interlaced playback (480i). I also watched this on my home theater setup (Infocus IN-76 projector connected to a Sony BDPS360 blu-ray player). This setup does a good job of up scaling a standard DVD to a high definition image suitable for my 80-inch wide high-gain movie screen. As hinted at in the disclaimer above, the image quality is less than that for a typical film on DVD, reflecting the TV standard video tape source material. As in the original broadcast, the image is the regular 4:3 “full screen” aspect ratio rather than the more modern wide screen standard. The video quality is watchable on a big screen, but is not as sharp as expected for an average DVD movie presentation, for instance.
There are two audio tracks available, one is the original Fox Network audio, presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, which sounds acceptable on a 5.1 surround system. The other is the radio play by play call from the Yankee's radio network, anchored by longtime Yankees play by play announcer John Sterling, which also has acceptable audio quality and is also stereo. In both cases, as in the video presentation, all commercial breaks have been cut out. Generally, the radio broadcast is better, but it suffers more dead air time due to the Fox Network and the radio network having different timing on their commercial breaks. The radio commercial breaks don't match the TV breaks well. I found myself switching back and forth a lot between the two soundtracks, using the audio button on my Sony remote. I ran some plays twice to get the different perspectives of the two sets of knowledgeable commentaries. I also switched to the TV commentaries to hear interviews with players and other commentary during breaks in the game and during some lengthy radio silences.
One other thing I noticed about the video quality was a thin line of distortion at the top of the image during the game, visible only when the image is upscaled to 1080p by a blu-ray player. It consists of a very thin horizontal dotted white line with a line of image bending below that. I was able to eliminate this line using the overscan control on my projector. I double-checked this on my Vizio E420VL high definition TV, connected to a Samsung P2550 blu-ray player. I got the same distortion effect on the TV and on my computer screen (using VLC media player software). I was able to eliminate the distortion line by using the zoom control on the Vizio TV. In both the projector and TV the line is eliminated by expanding the picture very slightly, just enough to eliminate the distortion line. I have seen similar distortion lines during high definition TV broadcasts, but not prior to this on DVDs. This distortion line appears to be similar to distortion lines I have seen resulting from videotape playbacks that are not tracking correctly. The distortion line did not appear when I played the same DVD on my standard definition Philips DVD player (running 480p and hooked up to the Vizio TV with component cables).
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.